Coalition urges Baker to release prisoners

A coalition of advocacy groups pressured Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday to reduce the state’s prison population to limit the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.

The community groups, led by the Massachusetts Public Health Association, outlined a 10-point plan to reduce incarceration with one major goal in mind — pressing Baker to make a move. Executive Director Carlene Pavlos said her organization has written to Baker, but hasn’t heard back.

In at least 15 other states, Pavlos said, governors have taken measures to reduce the number of people behind bars. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order allowing for the expedited release of hundreds of eligible prisoners to enable social distancing in the state’s prisons.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf did something similar, authorizing the release to home confinement or halfway houses nonviolent offenders within nine months of scheduled release and those with medical issues who are within 12 months of scheduled release. John Wetzel, the head of the Pennsylvania prison system, said inmate population reduction is essential to managing the virus spread and can be done safely.

Baker hasn’t said much about prisoner releases. In April, he said at a press conference that the Department of Correction was regularly consulting with the Department of Public Health on policies and protocols. “Generally speaking, they’re following the guidance they’re getting and benefiting from that, but there’s always gonna be room for improvement on all of this stuff,” he said. In May, Baker said the state would test all inmates for COVID-19.

Carol Mici, the state correction commissioner, testified in one court case that she saw no need to release prisoners convicted of serious crimes. Indeed, she put some of the onus for social distancing on inmates.themselves. “They need to do their part,” she said in a late April court hearing. “They’re grown, competent adults.”

Seven prisoners have died in Massachusetts correctional facilities from COVID-19, five at Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater, and two at MCI-Shirley. One county prisoner has died. As of Monday, 501 prisoners and 286 correctional staff have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a weekly report from the Supreme Judicial Court.

Over 1,100 prisoners have been released since the report was required in the wake of an April 3 decision by the court saying that some prisoners, including those held pre-trial or for probation violations, could seek release. The data doesn’t differentiate between prisoners who were already set to be released, and those released as a result of the court case.

According to the  Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the Parole Board in the past month has issued more than 350 release permits, 1,150 inmates have been released from state and county facilities under the SJC’s framework, and the Department of Correction has tested more than 2,800 inmates for COVID-19.

As several other court battles languish around the release of sentenced prisoners and those civilly committed to house arrest, advocates say that the public health emergency continues to be pertinent.

“The release of prisoners is the only way to stem the public health emergency that’s facing our prisoners, those that are incarcerated. Social distancing is impossible to do in prisons, and infections are spreading dangerously fast.” said Rev. David Lewis of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church during the press conference.

SARAH BETANCOURT

 

BEACON HILL

Comments by Gov. Charlie Baker indicate little reopening will be happening next week. Even the MBTA may not be able to comply with the state’s overarching guidelines. Baker also files a $1 billion supplemental budget that will be used to pay COVID-19 expenses that will be reimbursed by federal disaster relief funds. (CommonWealth) Scientists warn against opening the state too soon. (Boston Globe)

Attorney General Maura Healey links COVID-19 cases to race, poverty, and pollution. (CommonWealth)

Howie Carr says nursing homes, which account for double the share of COVID-19 deaths here as in New York and are regulated by the state, are not getting the scrutiny they deserve. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Advocates at the Children’s League of Massachusetts are concerned that less child abuse reports are being filed because of pandemic restrictions. (Patriot Ledger) 

Peabody city councilor Ed Charest has to call the police after a debate over a proposed development leads to online harassment. (The Salem News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home is starting to emerge from clinical crisis mode, and a staff shakeup is beginning. (CommonWealth)

The state reports its lowest number of coronavirus deaths since April 6, but that may be because of a new reporting deadline that pushed some Tuesday deaths into Monday. (MassLive)

At least four children are hospitalized at Boston Children’s Hospital with an illness potentially linked to COVID-19. (NBC10 Boston)

Home health care workers fight to be treated as essential workers and receive extra pay. (MetroWest Daily News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that cities and states could “turn back the clock” and see more COVID-19 deaths and economic damage alike if they lift coronavirus stay-at-home orders too fast (WGBH)

House Democrats unveil a $3 trillion proposal for coronavirus relief. (NPR) Nine advocates say a human infrastructure stimulus package is needed. (CommonWealth)

A federal judge puts a hold on the Justice Department’s move to drop charges against former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn. (Washington Post)

Since Sunday morning, President Trump has used his Twitter account to lodge or elevate accusations of criminal behavior at 20 individuals or groups, firing out more tweets with such baseless charges than messages related to the coronavirus pandemic. The targets include former President Obama and television host Joe Scarborough, whom he said should be investigated for murder. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

Columnist Jamelle Bouie says Elizabeth Warren and her New Deal orientation is Joe Biden’s best bet for a running mate. (New York Times)

Brenda Fydenkevez has spent $20,000 so far campaigning for a seat on the Select Board in Hadley. “If I didn’t think Hadley was worth it, I wouldn’t have spent that,” she said. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A shortage of masks could become a problem due to the high demand. (The Salem News)

Small businesses in Boston lost more money than in almost any other major metro area, according to a new Harvard analysis. (Boston Business Journal)

Shortages are driving up the cost of meat. (Boston Globe)

Businesses want more clarity on Gov. Charlie Baker’s phased reopening. (Telegram & Gazette)

Daycares are struggling financially as they face closures that are expected to last until June 29. (MassLive)

Some pet groomers had continued operating until the state clarified that they were not essential and must close. (Gloucester Daily Times)

EDUCATION

Dr. Anthony Fauci’s congressional testimony seemed to throw cold water on the idea of reopening college campuses to students in the fall. (Boston Globe) Some UMass Boston faculty told they may not have jobs next fall. (WBUR)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will speak at Smith College’s virtual graduation. (MassLive)

TRANSPORTATION 

The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority gets $5.7 million in federal aid. (Berkshire Eagle)

Founders of motorcoach company Cape Destinations are heading to DC to advocate for federal aid for their industry. (Cape Cod Times) 

Brand new train stations in Freetown and Fall River are included in a $159 million contract the MBTA approved for South Coast Rail. (Herald News)

CASINOS

Here’s what reopening could look like at Encore Boston Harbor, featuring masks and QR code menus. (MassLive)

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe owes Taunton a more than $530,000 in-lieu-of-tax payment. (Taunton Gazette)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Boston Herald editorial pans the decarceration effort to release inmates because of the threat of coronavirus in correctional facilities.

MEDIA

In Rhode Island, the state’s largest newspaper no longer has any opinions of its own as its corporate parent keeps cutting. (Nieman Journalism Lab)

The Baltimore Sun looks to nonprofit status to stay afloat. (The Guardian)

DigBoston editor Jason Pramas says recent grants from Facebook to major newsrooms should have gone to small and independent outlets, which have been impacted most by the social media giant. Media critic Dan Kennedy explores why he thinks Facebook’s new oversight board is destined to be an exercise in futility. (Media Nation)